The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) is concerned with the newly gazetted ordinance to combat "fake news" related to COVID-19 and the countryís ongoing state of emergency.
From the outset, we believe that misinformation should be tackled with facts rather than laws. That said, we believe existing legislation already give authorities more than sufficient power to curb malicious disinformation against the public interest.
The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021, which came into effect on Friday, provides the Malaysian government with even broader and sweeping powers that can be abused to curtail freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The ordinance carries a fine of up to 100,000 ringgit, or a three-year jail sentence, or both, for creating, offering, publishing, printing, distributing, circulating, or spreading any false news or contents that contain false news to ìintentionally cause or possibly cause fear or worry to the public.î
Such a broad and vague definition may allow prosecution of otherwise harmless content. In particular, we are greatly alarmed over a news report on Friday citing Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan that it is an offence to allege that the current government has lost its majority in the Parliament.
This leaves little room for freedom of speech, civil discourse, and personal opinion while opening doors to political prosecution in a country where freedom of expression is already under threat.
In addition, we are also concerned over the extra-territorial clause in the ordinance.
The ordinance states that ìany offence committed by any one, regardless of citizenship or nationality, in any location outside Malaysia, could be dealt with the offence as if it was committed anywhere in Malaysia.
The FCCM is disturbed by the lack of consultation with stakeholders on the matter, and we fear the possibility of foreign correspondents working in Malaysia being held accountable for published reports hosted by our organizations overseas deemed as ìfake newsî by the government.